After a year of brainstorming, planning, and sweating over every stitch of their costumes, this Labor Day weekend, cosplayers from across the nation will descend upon downtown for Dragon Con. Since its inception in 1987, Dragon Con has become a hub for cosplayers looking to flaunt their skills, with amateur costumers becoming as much of an attraction as the convention’s meticulously planned booths and panels. This year, we spoke to four cosplayers attending this year’s convention about their outfits, creative process, and the community they’ve found through cosplay. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
I am doing Caitlyn from the Netflix show Arcane, and I’m bringing some older costumes. I made Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn. I’m also bringing Tifa from Final Fantasy VII.
I will only really make one costume a year myself, and it will take months. I generally make everything except the shoes. I’ll start the planning phase in February, and then I’ll probably start purchasing materials in April, and I’ll begin assembling materials and actually, physically working on them in June. I buy the costumes I don’t make, and I have also commissioned costumes from other costumers. I really have to feel drawn to a character because making the costume—or even buying it and getting something really high quality—is pretty expensive.
I first cosplayed on Halloween when I was in my 20s. A bunch of friends and I all decided to make Nintendo costumes. I made Midna [from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess] and my partner was Link, and we kind of went a little nuts with it. He’s always been artsy, and I’m always getting crafty, and we did such a good job that everybody who saw our costumes was like, This is too much for Halloween, you should really take it to Dragon Con. We just drove in that year and it was so crazy fun. We felt like celebrities—everywhere we went, people wanted our photos, and there were all these other crazy costumes everywhere.
My favorite part of cosplaying is always going to be getting external validation, like somebody coming up and wanting my photo or wanting to talk about how I made it. I like making that connection when someone really loves what I’ve done or we get to talk to each other about what we’ve created.
I was planning on bringing [costumes of] Yuri from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Vanitas from Vanitas no Karte, Tubi from Nier: Automata, and Makoto Yuki from Persona 3. I might bring royal guard Link from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I’m also probably bringing Delsin Rowe from Infamous: Second Son. Mostly these are video game characters. These are all games I put a lot of time into, and I really loved their stories, and I really liked the characters and thought they had cool outfits.
Creating my cosplays can take anywhere from two months to six months. The things that I excel at and the things that I make the most of are props—so weapons, items, armor, things like that. Outfits and sewing is less my strong suit, but I am completely self-taught at both things. I fight the sewing machine every time—it’s not a project until I’ve bled all over it. Every single one of my costumes has my literal blood, sweat, and tears sewn into the seams.
I’ve technically been cosplaying since high school, but I started getting really serious about it and devoting a lot of time to it around 2016. When I was in high school, it was a lot less involved because I didn’t have the resources, time, or knowledge. I started carving out a good chunk of time, deciding, Okay, I’m going to spend all of my evenings in the next three months working on this thing.
Cosplay is my creative release. My biggest fear as a person is being a one-trick pony, and I’ve learned so many things from cosplay and costuming that I never have to worry about [becoming that]. I can do a lot of stuff just because of this hobby.
For Thursday, I am going as Raven from Teen Titans. On Friday, I’m doing a character called Power from a manga called Chainsaw Man. Saturday, I’m doing a character called Yor Forger from Spy X Family, and then Sunday, I’m doing Zero Two from Darling in the Franxx. Monday, I have a character named Mary Saotome from Kakegurui.
I would say anywhere from 12 to 60 hours of work can go into creating the cosplays I’ve made. I don’t sew, so none of my fabric pieces are handmade. I make props; I style wigs; I create little details or add additions and make small alterations, but I haven’t gotten to the point of sewing yet. If you search on Amazon or anywhere on the internet, you can find a base cosplay. A lot of times I’ll start with that and then remove certain pieces that I think look cheaper or not as authentic to the character and replace those with nicer pieces.
On how long I’ve been cosplaying, it’s not long at all, actually. I think my very first cosplay was technically for Halloween 2020 when I did Sailor Moon. But this year, I’ve been grinding super hard—I’ve done a total of 13 characters and photoshoots in nine months, which is a lot of work. I’ve been grinding so hard but it’s been so much fun.
Cosplay is not one thing or one way of creating. If you put something together, you like it, it represents a character to you, it’s art, and it’s creative, it’s cosplay.
I have about two cosplays per day for the entire four or five days. Some of them are Foxy from Five Nights at Freddy’s, Amity from The Owl House, Sasha from Amphibia, Tracer from Overwatch, Vi from Arcane, and Eddie Munson from Stranger Things.
I would say I start preparing for Dragon Con a couple months in advance. I tend to make and buy a pretty solid mix of the things in my cosplays, and the things that aren’t handmade are typically thrifted or altered after buying. I’m definitely a makeup guy. I also do wigs, I do prop stuff as well. Sewing is just not my strong suit. I’m lucky to have a lot of talented friends in my circle, we do a lot of exchanges because I have a skill set somebody else doesn’t have, and they have skills that I don’t have. We complete each other’s costumes in that way.
I discovered cosplay when I went to Dragon Con when I was 11 or 12. I’ve been sort of a geek all my life, so to see people that were geeks but also considered cool by other geeks for their costumes, I was like, Whoa, those people were attractive and they’re talented. I want to do that.
With cosplay, it’s super special to be able to do what you want, to be authentically strange in a way. I found myself to be on the cusp of that, and to find a subculture that, for the most part, is very welcoming. It’s really nice, and I’ve made some of my best friends through cosplay.
Disclosure: Wood was an Atlanta magazine editorial intern in 2019.